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How Playing Small Fuels Team Performance (feat. Liz Wiseman)

Dec 12, 2023

Leaders have the power to either expand team performance or inadvertently inhibit the growth of those around them.


Essentially, consider that you are either acting as a multiplier or diminisher of team performance. Multipliers operate under the belief that their team is intelligent and capable, fostering an environment where others can thrive. In contrast, diminishers assume that their team can’t succeed without their constant guidance, and create a hub-and-spoke environment. 


Joining me today on The Enlightened Executive podcast is Liz Wiseman. Liz is a researcher, advisor, and author of the New York Times bestseller Multipliers and the Wall Street Journal bestseller Impact Players. Her clients include Apple, AT&T, Disney, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and more. And she’s received the top achievement award for leadership from Thinkers 50. 


Liz’s research illustrates how leaders can either be catalysts for growth or, despite their best intentions, hinder the potential of those around them. In this episode, we explore practical tools leaders can use to identify their multiplier and diminisher tendencies, along with strategies to bring out the best in their team.



Leadership Styles and Mindset


At the core of her research is the idea that leadership styles are deeply rooted in mindset. Mindset impacts behavior, meaning that a leader’s perception of their team has the power to impact their team’s performance. According to Liz, two key mindsets have a profound leadership effect:


  • Multiplier Mindset: Drawing inspiration from Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, multipliers understand that with the right leadership, coaching, and environment, individuals can reach their full potential. The research unequivocally shows that multiplier leaders extract twice as much from their teams compared to diminishing leaders.
  • Diminisher Mindset: Not all diminishing leaders have malicious intent; in fact, many are “accidental diminishers” with good intentions. Examples include the idea fountain who overwhelms with constant ideas, the always-on leader who exhausts the team, and the rescuer who inadvertently weakens the team by intervening too frequently. 


Even leaders with the best intentions can unknowingly exhibit diminishing behaviors. Leaders must become aware of these tendencies and actively work to avoid unintentionally diminishing their team’s potential.



The Key Differentiator: Knowing When to Play Big and Small


Effective leaders, Wiseman argues, know when to play big and when to play small. Multipliers selectively choose when to play small so their teams can realize their full potential. Here are three examples of how multipliers strategically “play small:”


  • Avoid dominating discussions; instead, attempt to speak only 10-20% of the time in team meetings. This fosters an environment where others can contribute and thrive. 
  • Actively choose and plan for team members to lead discussions, meetings, and initiatives.
  • Refrain from jumping in to solve team challenges. Opt instead for group discussions where solutions emerge from the team. 


By strategically choosing when to play big and small, leaders create an environment where team members feel empowered to contribute at their full potential.



Implement Multiplying Practices for team performance:


To assess whether your leadership style is diminishing or multiplying, Wiseman suggests a reflective approach. Below are three action steps you can take today to hone your multiplier leadership mindset.


  1. Ask yourself the tough questions: How am I contributing to the struggles within my team? What unintentional actions may be inhibiting the potential of those around me? It’s essential to acknowledge these aspects before you can address them effectively. Utilize resources like the accidental diminisher quiz (https://thewisemangroup.com/quiz/accidental-diminisher-quiz/) to identify your unintentional diminishing behaviors. 
  2. Engage your peers and team in conversations about multiplier and diminisher tendencies. Share the concepts with your team and invite feedback on where you engage in behaviors that act as diminishers of team performance. Over time, this shared language will contribute to a culture where team members are encouraged to express their perspectives and deliver feedback.
  3. Make a plan to play small. Look ahead to the next month and identify three to five meetings that a team member can lead. Aim to contribute 10% less than normal in each meeting.


Liz Wiseman’s insights provide a roadmap for leaders looking to amplify the talents of their team members to increase team performance. By understanding the nuances between multipliers and diminishers, and by actively cultivating a multiplying mindset, leaders can propel their teams toward unprecedented growth and success. 


The journey begins with self-awareness, evolves through open dialogue, and culminates in the implementation of practices that empower every team member. 


Playing big sometimes means playing small, and true leadership lies in unlocking the full potential of those around you.


Liz also shares…

  • How intelligence can have a dampening effect on others
  • Why an over-emphasis on innovation can stall progress
  • The importance of bridling creativity


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